Rebuilding Lost Art of Hanging Out

After a year . . . and a quarter . . . or so . . . of reduced or no social life, millions of Americans are finally beginning to engage in normal social interaction again. Many people are finding it challenging, for what comes down to three basic reasons. 

First, we’re simply out of practice. You can’t just jump back into your old social whirl because the old social whirl isn’t there anymore, and even if it were, your old you isn’t there anymore. 

Second, the virus hasn’t actually gone away, and even if we want to change things all the way back to what they were, we can’t – not immediately. We still need to be cautious and restrained in avoiding possible virus transmission, from others to ourselves, and from us to others, no matter how “clean” we may think we are. We can’t just all go maskless and hug and kiss like we were at an emotionally significant Eastern Mediterranean family gathering. Truth be told, we probably shouldn’t even shake hands as freely as we used to for the rest of 2021 – if ever. 

Third, we probably don’t, collectively, want to put everything back the way it was in March of 2020. Almost certainly, the “return to normal” will in fact be a “new normal” from what we were normally used to. The enforced break has allowed us to change the rules, and should allow us to keep them changed. One of the most common cliches heard lately is women saying they aren’t looking forward to “having to” wear bras again. You don’t actually “have to.” In the mid-1960s, women decided to stop wearing bras because the ones on the market were even more uncomfortable than the current ones, and it took years until clothing manufacturers were able to persuade women to try the new models they were offering. If women decide that a professional look doesn’t require a bra, it doesn’t. Simple as that. 

In a similar vein, a person on Twitter made a half-serious, half-snarky comment, “When this is over, I don’t want ANYONE to say, ‘How are you?’ to me. I’m taking suggestions as to what people should say instead.”  

Replies included, “I intend to give a couple of details about myself to indicate how much I’d like to hear back, like, ‘I missed some sleep last night, but I feel pretty good considering. How do you feel today?’”  

Another read, “For years, I have opened conversations with, ‘Is there something I can do for you right this minute?’ I say ‘right this minute’ so they will say, ‘My neck is pretty stiff, could your rub it?’, as opposed to, ‘Would you campaign for Stacey Abrams?’”  

A couple of people mentioned the Chinese tradition of asking, “Have you eaten?”, which is a good one, given the way some of us have been neglecting to eat a healthy diet lately. Some superior post-COVID replacements for “How are you?”, different ones for different settings,are not a bad idea at all. 

So, tell us, have you eaten? 

By John M. Burt